A TV reality programme has shown a property mogul who was expelled from school at the age of 15 how funding cuts are putting pressure on support staff.
Kate Stewart, who left school without any qualifications, made her first £1 million through a string of beauty salons, and now focuses on the hospitality sector and property development.
Now she has returned to school for the first time in 21 years for the Channel 4 series The Secret Teacher, in which successful entrepreneurs go undercover in the classroom.
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The Liverpudlian spent five weeks as a support worker at Parkwood E-Act Academy in Sheffield, where she worked with Jackie Doughty, head of support for two year groups.
The impact of school budget cuts
Ms Doughty previously looked after one year group, but she now has responsibility for two because of funding pressures. As the then headteacher Vicky Simcock tells the film-makers: “The problem is, when budgets nationally are being reduced and reduced and reduced and reduced, one of the easy targets is your support staff.”
Ms Stewart’s first experience is with class 11X, described as one for those most in need of additional support. After a lesson marred by misbehaviour, she tells the teacher: “I don’t know how you do that every day.”
“It takes a lot of patience,” he replies, matter of factly.
Afterwards, she tells the camera: “It’s just so weird looking at the kids, thinking, ‘Oh God, you’re so irritating,' the ones who are misbehaving. When that was me, and how hard it is for the teachers.”
During the course of the programme, she is drawn to two pupils: Molly, whose “dream, dream job” is to have her own hair and beauty business but who often misses school, and Zain, a would-be businessman who she worries may go off in the wrong direction.
When she meets Ms Simcock, Ms Stewart says: “My head is spinning. There has been so much going on, and poor Jackie is absolutely rushed off her feet.”
School support staff 'do amazing work'
At one point, the entrepreneur attends a meeting of the support team, hearing about one mother whose children are on the verge of going into care. “You are like social workers,” she tells them.
Ms Doughty tells the camera: “We are not only educators, we are like guardians, we are counsellors, we are everything rolled into one, and we are expected to do that with less staff.”
For Ms Stewart, “it’s really unfair to pile all that responsibility on a school that’s having its budget cut”.
At the end of her five weeks at the school, she tells Ms Doughty: “What I have realised is how important the support staff are in the school. I’ve seen the amazing work that you do here, and you are doing the role of two people.”
The second episode of The Secret Teacher will be shown on Channel 4 at 9pm on Thursday 15 August